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What I Wish People Understood About Activism and Accessibility

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Ever since Donald Trump’s inauguration, people all over the country have made their disappointment and anger known through marches, protests and rallies. Of course there was the Women’s March on Washington, which was the largest protest in U.S. history. There have also been protests in airports, marches to the Capitol buildings in many states, rallies at the Supreme Court and more. These forms of activism have been critical in many social movements throughout our country’s history, and I have ample respect for them.

But you may not see me at the next march or the next rally. That is not because I do not care or because I do not feel like showing up. On the contrary, I am often frustrated that I cannot do more on a daily basis to resist this terrifying and inhumane administration. But I am not only a concerned woman who is petrified of this new presidency, I am also a person with cerebral palsy. And with my type of cerebral palsy, standing and walking for long periods of time really strains my muscles – to the point that I am unable to do much physical activity at all for up to two days afterwards.

Rallies often take place outside of government buildings like city hall. They usually require standing outside in large crowds: a nightmare for me and for many others with physical disabilities. Finding somewhere to sit with decent back support can be close to impossible, and you will have people continuously bumping into you. I have been at these types of events before, and I was so hyper-aware of the screaming inside my aching muscles that I could hardly focus on the calls for justice being made by the speakers. While everyone around me was rejoicing and cheering in solidarity, I was merely trying to remain standing.

You may not see me at the next march, because I may decide I cannot physically show up to every single event. I may decide I cannot justify another day of bed rest. I may decide it is not worth the aching pain when I could easily show my support in ways that involve sitting – like calling elected officials, making donations, engaging in conversations with family members, or attending webinars to educate myself on upcoming policy changes.

I ask that our allies – anyone who is able-bodied – work to make spaces for us where we can sit, where we can lie down, and where our bodies can be present in a way that causes little to no pain. Our revolution must include a space that is accessible to everyone. I ask that you not be judgmental or criticizing if someone chooses not to attend a call to action because of a physical limitation.

I ask that if you are planning these marches or rallies, you try your best to create a space that is accessible for everyone. Make sure your march route has ramps. At the very least, make sure an organizer of the event is there to redirect folks to an accessible option if stairs are involved in the route. Make sure you announce that folks should give up their seats if someone with a disability asks for it, especially if there are limited seats available. Make sure the spaces you are occupying are wheelchair accessible, and if they are not, advertise the lack of accessibility on the event page and in all forms of social media.

If you are holding a sign during one of these protests, make sure you do not block anyone’s view of an ASL interpreter. Always try to be aware of where the interpreter is and make sure your body and/or signs do not block anyone’s line of vision. Make sure you also plan
events that allow for sitting along with the marches and rallies. Organize a panel or community forum in an auditorium, or organize a phone bank event. There are infinite ways for folks to get involved that do not require standing, but can still make a great impact.

I also have an ask for other folks with physical disabilities out there. Please remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.  There will be numerous protests, marches and rallies to attend during the next four years. If you need your body to be functioning well the next day, or if you just do not feel up to attending a particular event, it is OK to skip it. It
is OK to prioritize taking care of your body first and foremost. The key to surviving this administration is self-care, but folks often talk about the mental and emotional components of that act more than the physical ones.

Forgive yourself if you need to skip these events. Remind yourself that you can show up in ways that will not hurt you, and never be afraid to push others to make a space accessible for you, because the only way we will defeat this administration is if everyone is at the table.

You may not see me at the next march, but I am here, and I am ready to fight.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Thinkstock photo by Rawpixel.

Originally published: February 28, 2017
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